We can learn a lot from underperforming products when we are creating new ones. They provide case studies and examples that help us understand the elements behind the lack of success. In this post, we are going to explore the invisible barriers that human psychology creates when we ask the consumer to adopt innovation – the human elements that hold innovation back. Being aware of these barriers means we can ask the right questions in our consumer research, and build new food & beverage products with a deeper understanding of the consumer need.
Avoid pushing the new product harder
Each product in a portfolio has a role and most brands will have products at some point that fall into the category of ‘underperforming’. In many cases, that product must be discontinued, and the brand must fall back on better products in its portfolio or reinvent itself. On other occasions, all is not lost, and instead taking a look at what is really going on can unlock success.
Typically, when consumers are not buying a product often brands try to push that product harder. This plays out in tactics such as price discounts to initiate trial, marketing promotions to create awareness, or changing the packaging design for greater shelf presence. Adding more appeal to your product may win over the consumer in the short term but often it is more insightful to take a step back and understand the invisible and hidden barriers that are stopping the product from performing. At LaunchJuice we enjoy exploring the psychology of the human brain and share what we find to help us all launch better products. Throughout our strategy to concept services, we utilize our understanding of human behavior to develop irresistible new products for your brand or revive failing ones. We use the concept of resistance, so let’s jump into understanding what causes resistance and how we can overcome it.
Understand the hidden barriers holding the product back
What I find most interesting about uncovering and then removing resistance to product innovation is that small changes can have a really big impact on product uptake. One well-known example is that of cake mixes. When they were first introduced by General Mills as a convenient way to bake the idea of just adding water took away the care and craft of baking from their target audience. When this negative barrier was understood GM reformulated their product so that their bakers could add a fresh egg to the cake mix. This small step helped to overcome a significant emotional barrier and the product was embraced as the bakers now felt that they were playing an active role in their cake making and were now open to benefiting from the convenience of the product. To have made the product cheaper, more convenient or to introduce promotions wouldn’t have changed the game for GM, what truly made the difference was to remove the invisible human barrier holding it back.
Understand our mental limitations as humans
There are several types of hidden barriers and mental limitations that affect how we think about products. One such limitation that stops us from embracing innovation and change is in fact, laziness! The more effort we need to understand the new product and adopt it into our existing routines reduces the likelihood of acceptance. Naturally, we like to pursue the path of least resistance. One example that comes to mind is probiotic drinks. The name by itself sounds great but technical reasons meant that the powdered probiotics had to be stored separately from the liquid, so the manufacturer put the powder into a dispensing lid. The extra effort required by the consumers to add the probiotics and shake the bottle meant that the behavior wasn’t sustained for an on-the-go purchase even if the drink was healthier than the more convenient alternatives.
Even when we look at supplements, taking a functional tablet once a day is another thing for us to remember to do especially when there is no immediate emotional reward. Olly successfully removed this barrier by introducing the gummie. The delicious taste and satisfying texture of this new format transformed the occasion and, most importantly, the consumption behavior. Are there products in your portfolio where you could add more enjoyment for your consumer?
Despite our mental limitations, there are times in our days, weeks, years, and life when we are naturally much more open to change. These moments are like the feeling we have when we set a new year’s resolution – that feeling of freshness and excitement. And these moments are replicated throughout other times in life like the beginning of the week, the morning, after a special occasion like Labor Day, a birthday – finding those moments relevant to your consumer means they can become catalysts for change, making it naturally easier for us to adopt new ideas. If we can understand these moments they can also help us decide the best time to launch an innovation or deliver a message to consumers.
Make sure your product is different (but not too different)
Another powerful human barrier is that we often favor things that we view as familiar even if the alternative might be better for us – we have a strong inclination to stick to what we know. Although we know consumers love newness if the new idea and new product require a significant break from what consumers are used there will be resistance. A strategy here is to introduce the new product gradually and in stages rather than in one big step. An example of this being done well is Bulletproof Coffee. For customers that wanted to lose weight without hunger and cravings, butter coffee was a great solution as it offered satiety and fast energy in an occasion and format consumers were familiar with – coffee. The idea was different, but it wasn’t a major break from the status quo. This paved the may for more groundbreaking products in their pipeline. Another element behind the brands initial success is that they also understand that consumers don’t like to be told what to do but like to co-create and self-persuade. Giving consumers their recipe to create butter coffee at home meant they started the revolution behind their brand and got around the impulse we have to resist change when we are told what to do!
Negative emotions are stronger than positive emotions
Emotional barriers are when we feel a negative emotion that stops us from embracing a product. The cake mix resistance is a great example of this. When General Mills reduced the emotional cost and made their target consumer feel that cake mixes can have an element of craft and care product uptake happened.
Many years ago, I worked on a women’s digestive health brand. We had very much focused on the functional benefits of the product which was wearing thin with our consumers. We were seeing repeat purchases drop off and our new products were not being well received. What we realized was that talking about bloating and tummy comfort was creating friction for our audience. It became a brand you didn’t want to have in your shopping cart. By understanding the barriers, we were able to reframe the problem so that we could connect more deeply with our bullseye target consumer and at the same time draw in a larger, younger audience. Our reframing was to move away from the functional call-outs on the pack and appeal to an emotive problem consumers faced –they wanted to improve their overall wellbeing and feeling of vitality that was rooted in gut health. We could have kept adding new flavors, offering discounts, or running new promotions but ultimately there was friction that needed to be addressed for this brand to succeed. By adapting the communication and key packaging icons we were able to remove that barrier.
Uncovering the barriers
Uncovering the hidden barriers involves discovery. Talking to consumers is crucial and this can be done by using ethnographic researchers or bringing consumers into the ideation phase of innovation. This helps us to see a product and the experience through the consumer’s eyes to discover what holds people back and the source of any resistance to our product solutions. This co-creation approach to product development is influential as we are much more likely to be influenced by messages and product that we created and generated rather than being told – think back to Bulletproof.
Reducing friction is most important when it comes to success with product
Pushing harder or adding more appeal can be ineffective when it comes to reviving a declining product. When we understand the natural tenancies of the human brain, we understand that we instinctively place more weight on negatives versus positives. It makes sense then that reducing negatives will have more of an impact than increasing positives in product development. If you have a core product that needs reviving or a new product that needs a boost here are three questions you can ask yourself;
- Does your product have a distinct role in a balanced mix of innovations?
- If yes, then what are the typical consumer complaints about your product?
- What are the barriers to purchasing and re-purchasing your product?
If you found this interesting and want to explore some of these ideas further, then I recommend reading The The Human Element which explores ‘how to overcome the resistance that awaits new ideas’.
Do you have examples you can share of how you have overcome resistance to a new or existing product? Add your comments below to share what you learned with other brands.